11/04/2004

Adult Stem Cell News

The Associated Press (via CNN) has a piece regarding the use of adult stem cells in the treatment of cancer.

Texas researchers say they have perfected a method to deliver cancer treatment directly into tumors, bypassing healthy tissue.

The specialized stem cells -- known as mesenchymal stem cells -- come from bone marrow and help maintain healthy connective tissues. When new tissue is needed to heal wounds or form scars, those special stem cells swell in number.

The work builds on the promise of using stem cells to hunt down brain tumors, outlined in a 2000 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
Adult stem cell research is free of the thorny ethical complications surrounding embryonic stem cells. There appears to be some debate - the finer points of which are over my head - as to which branch of stem cell research is more likely to produce practical and meaningful results.

If there is even half the promise in either branch of stem cell research as the hype suggests, there is enormous financial incentive for private industry to be doing this research on its own dime. My understanding is that researchers are free to work with any line of stem cells they choose, so long as the work isn't done with federal money.

It's not unreasonable for the federal government to place restrictions on how its money is spent; colleges that accept federal funding are required to adhere to strict guidelines in regards to admissions. I don't see much difference between that sort of restriction and one that limits federally-funded research to a subset of cell lines. The college that only wants to admit women is free to eschew federal funding, and the researcher who wishes to work on a wider variety of stem cell lines has the same freedom.

The idea that American pharmaceutical companies need to have their research subsidized by the federal government sounds an awful lot like "corporate welfare" to me.